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Bonus time


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'Tis the season to be jolly, and what could be jollier than a nice, fat Christmas bonus? According to the New York Times the financial services sector is salivating over anticipated year-end paycheck inflators.

Investment banking associates right out of college earn some $85k and can expect a $115k bonus. That takes a bit of the pain out of putting some granny's nest egg into junk bonds.

The head of Merrill Lynch made a paltry $500k in salary but, uh, “earned” a $13.5m year-end bonus. High-performing commodities traders might see a sweet little $15m added to the pay stub this month, just enough to cover those Gucci necessities of life.

The drug industry is another nice place to be, at least if you're highly compensated. Troubled Vioxx-supplier Merck plans to offer executives up to three times their already generous salary and bonus if the company is acquired.

How will game maker Electronic Arts take care of its employees? Historically they're pretty generous. CFO Warren Jenson got a $450k bonus last year, plus a $4m loan (which was forgiven), plus $1.6m to cover the tax consequences of said forgiveness, with 290k in other compensation and 120,000 options of EA stock (see the Preliminary Notice & Proxy and the Form 10-Q).

It's heart-warming to find a company so devoted to the workers.

Shockingly, some EA employees aren't quite so thrilled with job conditions there. These dissidents complain that the company demands 80-to-110 hour workweeks for months on end for programmers and other developers, with neither OT pay nor comp time.

What's the beef? Someone has to create corporate value, including EA's $3.2b in assets, of which $2.5b are in cash and short-term investments. This year's $577m profit exceeded all employee costs, including overhead. Good job, workers!

But don't expect a bonus.

Software Development Magazine reports that US programmers averaged a $4,000 bonus last year, which is a bit under 5% of total income. Managers, of course, did considerably better.

This year employees are thankful for a job. Perks and bonuses are nice — really nice — additions to the compensation package, but just a steady paycheck keeps the financial wolves at bay.

Not everyone is so lucky. This week's TechNews from the ACM contains two contiguous and strangely-related stories. In the first Congress ups the H-1B visa cap by another 20,000 engineers. In other words, in this time of not-particularly-full employment, our representatives have helpfully made it harder to find work.

I wonder if Congress will vote themselves a bonus for such far-sighted efforts?

The second claims 55,000 tech jobs were lost in Silicon Valley in the third quarter of this year, 60% more than the previous three months. The title, “Silicon Valley's No Place to Find a Job,” sums up the contents and angst.

If you're working, what do you expect the bonus/profit sharing/stock option situation to be this year?

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helps companies with their embedded challenges. Contact him at . His website is .

Reader Response

Meanwhile, some small companies aren't even giving bonuses to their CEOs. Still, they find a way to stick it to the engineers. This year's bonus was “if you aren't late getting the product out for a deadline we arbitrarily moved forward by six months, you may not have to look for a new job.”

– Greg Nelson

I expect no bonus. No thank you, even.

Last year we got a $20 bill for everybody from sr engr's to the assembly laborers to the janitor.

Yet we have plenty of cash to upgrade the front offices to 2.6Ghz machines (I have a 450MHz machine for my compilers), move a bunch of offices around so we can have a “Corporate Boardroom” for a group that meets once a quarter (I think Howard Hughes' architect designed it), and plenty to remodel the bigwigs' homes, while my salary is $20K under the average for our area.

And they wonder why I'm leaving Feb 18…

– Andy Kunz

Out here (Off shore SWEDEN)Bonus is NOT anything anyone expect. Except in some companies were CEOs feel like they have to sacrafice themselves, and cant resist all sorts of bonus. All because they threathen to move “over there” (USA). I like them to try…

Acctually i quite content with a good paycheck and (hopefully) some influence instead of a bonus. All we get in gifts here is a single christmas gift.. Like “A kitchen knife and ice cream spoon” or nice “a nice candle holder” wounder what it will be this year. Ah yes we also get sallary 22 not 24th. Everyone in SWEDEN also HAVE to take 5V paid vacation each year.(LAW)Can that be a late christmas bonus?

– Martin

Think what you can do for your company and not what company can do for you….

– rajan


You're not collecting a paycheck or any other benfits from your company, right? Shame on you if you are! How selfish one must be to expect to be compensated at < 10%="" what="" the="" executives="" are="" collecting!="" everyone="" knows="" they="" do="" 1000%="" as="" much="" work.="" especially="" out="" there="" on="" the="" golf="" course...="">

– Jack Crack

The ACM article that you have quoted is clearly misleading. It is an abridged version of an article where it is clear that no attempt to establish a cause-effect relationship between cuts in H-1B visas and increase in domestic employment has been made. The full-length article does contain the following quote, which should be obvious:”Although a number of factors are affecting high-tech employment, including an improving economy and the migration of engineers out of the technical workforce, statistics indicate that U.S. professionals have benefited from a reduction in H-1B visas.”

The statistics referred to in this article are not however cited.

Bottomline, I wouldn't assume, based on this data, that the rise in employment figures has any relation to the H-1B cap.

– Dilip

The author of this article obviously doesn't have the slightest idea what an investment banker does. An investment banking “associate” position is typically for someone with 2-3 years prior experience or a graduate degree. We pay our entry level people 65k plus approximately 25+ in bonuses.

More importantly, an investment banker will likely never see a grandmother or a nest egg – it's just not what we do. That is an asset management function.

– Anonymous C.

Jack Replies I apologize – I guess I was wrong. And my heart goes out to those poor 21 yr olds forced to squeak by on $90k/yr.

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